Photo: Audubon Magazine
A small, yellow bird with blue-gray wings lives in the swamps of the southern United States, raising its young in a cavity of a dead cypress or other wetland tree trunk. A small nest box mounted on a pole, several feet above the water serves as an adequate substitute for the dwindling numbers of suitable decaying tree trunks. The bird is common, but only in swampy areas, and often unnoticed by those who dare to visit the land of mosquitos and reptiles. I've been around our swamps all my life, and only saw my first Prothonotary after it was pointed out by an experienced birder.
A few weeks ago I thought it was time for a change of pace and answered the call for volunteers by the Jackson Audubon Society to help clean the nest boxes. The JAS has placed and maintained about 50 boxes in two locations, at Mayes Lake and at a wildlife management area on the Reservoir north of Highway 43. In early spring, the boxes are cleaned and repaired, and a log with detailed notes is updated. Here we go:
Reese inspects nest material from last season. The nests are often used by other birds after Prothonotarys have vacated. In fact, wasps can be a problem during cleaning if the weather isn't cool enough to keep them lethargic.
Here's what the nest box can look like with multiple occupants' materials stacked up.
One box I cleaned had unhatched eggs still on the nest.
We got a good look at a Barred Owl while we were walking through the area.
Here's the group after our first round at Mayes Lake, Louise, me, Sean and Reese...
...and Ruthie, the mission photographer, ready for adventure.